Elections 2018: US Representative, District 5

This race abruptly got more interesting during the DFL State Convention, when Keith Ellison decided to run for Attorney General, opening up this seat. There was a mad dash to file; a bunch of the filers then withdrew after seeing someone they liked and respected (or didn’t think they could reasonably beat) in the contest. The 5th district DFL reconvened and held an endorsing convention, which I thought was an absolutely terrible idea under the circumstances. Anyway, it’s been an interesting year.

The good news: this is a very, very, very, very blue district. In 2016, Keith Ellison won with 69.1% of the vote (and the “Legal Marijuana Now” person got 8% of what was left.) If this is your district, you can vote your heart in the primary without asking yourself, “but will this person win in the general?” Also, if you want any input on your next congressional rep, you will definitely want to show up on August 14th.

The candidates running:

Frank Nelson Drake
Bobby Joe Champion
Jamal Abdi Abdulahi
Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Patricia Torres Ray
Ilhan Omar

I’m going to start by rolling through the first three I listed pretty quickly, and focusing on the three women, who are the ones I think have an actual shot at winning. (Abdulahi is a real candidate, but he hasn’t gotten much traction.)

Frank Nelson Drake

Frank ran last time against Keith Ellison as a Republican, and he’s clearly still a Republican. His campaign slogan is “D is for Drake” and one of the top posts on his campaign Facebook page is a not-terribly-subtle attempt to intimidate Somali immigrants into not voting.  He also thinks he’s the most qualified candidate in the race, which given that he’s never held elective office and he’s running against multiple legislators is sort of hilarious. There’s zero reason to vote for him. If you’re a Republican, I’d expect you to be over on the GOP side of the ballot because surely you have an opinion on Pawlenty vs. Johnson? But even if you’re not, this guy has no actual chance at winning; you’re going to want to cast your ballot for your preferred actual Democrat and hope for the best.

Bobby Joe Champion

He’s still on the ballot, but has suspended his campaign.

Jamal Abdi Abdulahi

Jamal founded the Somali-American DFL Caucus and has worked really hard to energize, organize, and educate the Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis. He’s genuinely pretty awesome, but his campaign has not gotten a ton of traction. His website doesn’t offer very detailed policy positions. I hope he runs for office again; he’s clearly got a lot to offer, but I don’t think he’s going to be successful this time.

On to the candidates I think have a shot at nomination: Kelliher, Torres Ray, and Omar.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Kelliher ran for governor eight years ago, and lost in the primary to Mark Dayton. I voted for her at the time and remember liking her pretty well. (I was not a huge Dayton fan, although I’m going to say at this point that he’s been okay, and I’m certainly happy to have had him over Emmer or Johnson.) Prior to running for governor, she spent 12 years in the State Legislature, including serving as Speaker.

If you check out her issues page you’ll see a lot of the same stances as you’ll see from  Torres Ray and Omar: Medicare for All, gun control, abolish ICE. Where I felt like I could see a key difference was her Endorsements page, which is a who’s who of establishment DFLers I’m not wild about: Lisa “here, hold my gum” Goodman, Linea “sure, we can do a hearing now that all the activists are out of the room and Bob Kroll is here” Palmisano, Kevin “a grievable situation” Reich, Barb “too much to cover in pithy quote” Johnson, Phyllis “what’s a punch?” Kahn. Also Arne “not a Republican anymore, but also not a Democrat” Carlson. Her friends in the legislature are overwhelmingly suburban and shockingly white. She has literally one endorsement that I found from someone who is not white, out of almost fifty endorsements listed on her site. (I may have missed someone? But if I did, that’s still a pretty stunningly white crowd for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. That’s disproportionately white even for the suburban parts of Minnesota’s 5th, which includes Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Center, and Robbinsdale.)

If you want a reliable Democratic vote but are not interested in a candidate who will ruffle a lot of feathers, she’s probably your best bet.

That’s not what I want.

Part of what I have loved about Keith Ellison is that he gives Republicans ulcers just by being who he is. From this seat, I feel like a Democratic vote is just the minimum. I also want a Democratic voice, and I want that person to be loud.

That brings me to two women I really love, and am having a really hard time choosing between: Ilhan Omar, and Patricia Torres Ray.

Patricia Torres Ray
Ilhan Omar

(I started out trying to do two separate write-ups but kept wanting to jump back and forth.)

My old house in Minneapolis was in Patricia Torres Ray’s Senate district, and I was part of the endorsing convention that endorsed her. Ed and I were getting ready to host a party when she door-knocked us; we invited her in to talk to us while we worked on food prep.

She came in, and I don’t even remember what we talked about, just that I liked her a lot. When the endorsing convention got close, we got an e-mail saying that her campaign was providing childcare — not just for their own delegates, for anyone who needed it; provided by licensed day-care providers hired for the day; just let them know if we were sending our kids, and pack them a lunch. Molly and Kiera were 3 and 6 at the time. Ed and I were both delegates and we had not been able to find a babysitter. Here’s what I commented to a friend from the same Senate District:

It is incredibly difficult to participate in this aspect of politics [Senate District conventions] when you have little kids, and a candidate who is aware enough of that issue to actually do something about it is my kind of person.  There are so many people who pay lip service to the idea of encouraging participation despite barriers, but it’s really rare to see someone actually DO something about one of the most common barriers around for women who want to participate.

Patricia had the most votes on the first ballot and steadily gained from there, and I think it’s because one way or another, a lot of people had reached the same conclusion I had: that she was someone who really got it, who listened, who genuinely cared, and who would bring that with her to the legislature.

She is herself an immigrant. Interestingly, at the one debate I was able to find online, the candidates’ group appearance on TCT Almanac, she didn’t answer “yes” to the “will you abolish ICE” question, saying it was too complicated an issue to give a yes/no answer to. Kelliher and Omar both answered yes, and when I e-mailed Torres Ray’s campaign to ask for more details, they told me she’s moved to the “yes, let’s just go ahead and abolish it” position in the last month. I’ll also note that Torres Ray got arrested earlier this month at a protest of a company profiting off the family separation policy.

The TCT Almanac debate was really interesting (it’s only a half hour long, so if you’re an undecided 5th CD voter, well worth the time, although sitting through Frank Drake is annoying); at one point they all got asked how they’d shore up Social Security and Medicare. Patricia Torres Ray said that she’d solve the current solvency problem by letting in more immigrants; Abdulahi said that we should change the paradigm by implementing Medicare for All; and Ilhan Omar said that we should just cut the military budget, which is sort of a boilerplate progressive response to “how should we afford X” and at this point I find it sort of unsatisfying even if I sympathize in principle.

What I really liked from Ilhan Omar in that debate was that in this seven-person conversation (two journalists, five candidates) she took up a lot of space. She was not going to sit back and let other people talk over her, and I appreciated that because I’ve been on con panels with three women and two men where somehow the two men took up 75% of the air time.

I like Ilhan Omar a lot, too. If there’s a person out there who will upset the Islamophobic right wing more than Keith Ellison, it’s got to be a Somali-American immigrant Muslim woman who wears a hijab.

Ilhan’s website covers a lot more issues than Patricia’s. Not, I think, because Patricia disagrees with much of the substance on Ilhan’s issues page; I’d read this as Patricia trying to show focus, Ilhan wanting to make it really clear that she’s embracing a lot of progressive views. Patricia’s website mentions education, immigration, and climate change. Ilhan’s covers a lot more ground (including one of my pet issues, sex ed that covers consent — she wants that mandatory nationwide). Ilhan mentions a $15 federal minimum wage, a federal jobs guarantee program, universal preschool… Pramila Jayapal (the Congresswoman who represents Seattle) has commented that a lot of issues people think of as super left-wing are genuinely centrist in the sense that a substantial majority of Americans support them. (For example, almost 60% of Americans support Medicare for All.) I’m pretty sure there are some issues where Ilhan has managed to stake out a position that’s to the left of most Americans, which I approve of, even if I have reservations about some of her proposals. Is she going to march into Congress and get the Freedom Caucus to cough up universal preschool? Probably not. Does having people putting issues like this on the table help to make people take them more seriously? Yes.

Ilhan Omar is endorsed by Mark Dayton, by former mayoral candidate Raymond Dehn (who she supported in the mayoral election), by current mayor Jacob Frey, and by most of the City Council reps I like. Patricia Torres Ray is endorsed by Winona LaDuke, Sen. John Marty, former mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds (who she supported in the mayoral election), Rep. Karen Clark, and Peter McLaughlin.

Here’s my overall sense of what each of these women would bring to the table. Which may be unfair! But here’s my feeling:

I feel like Patricia Torres Ray would be better at the behind-the-scenes committee work where you take your idea and you talk to potential co-sponsors and you figure out what’s politically palatable and you re-write your idea and you figure out bones to throw to key people to bring them on board and in the end, you make some incremental progress, possibly in a way that embodies all the jokes about sausage-making and how much no one wants to see it happen. In his endorsement of her, Sen. Larry Pogemiller said, “She is humble and understated, never seeking the limelight for herself, but rather getting work done and building coalitions while often giving credit to others” — that’s pretty much my sense of her. McLaughlin’s endorsement of her is similar — he mentions her securing a large allocation from the state to build a shelter for victims of sex trafficking.

I feel like Ilhan Omar would be better at being a lightning rod — at getting in front of cameras and making Republican heads explode. If someone’s wrong, she’s less likely to quietly let it go because she wants their support on a future bill; she will grab the mic to tell them exactly why they’re wrong.

And my summary here may be unfair to Patricia, who got herself arrested committing civil disobedience earlier this month; she clearly appreciates the value of high-profile symbolic direct action.

My summary may also be unfair to Ilhan, who has an impressive set of accomplishments for someone who only got elected to the legislature in 2016. She’s a hard worker as well as a hard fighter. But she was also only elected in 2016. Legislative effectiveness is a skill and people are not magically born with it, and she has a lot less experience than Patricia.

If what you want is low-profile effectiveness, you may be happier with Patricia (or, for that matter, Margaret.) There is a lot to be said for low-profile effectiveness, most of the time. It can literally translate into things like light rail lines, better roads, Federal money coming to Minneapolis to build things we want and can’t easily afford locally.

If what you want is a really visible fighter, it would be really hard to do better than Ilhan Omar. (Like, it would be hard to come up with anyone in the country.)

I’ve been waffling on this a lot. Most years, I would unhesitatingly pick the quieter person I would expect to be more effective (as well as reliably, staunchly, immovably progressive), and I really like Patricia, for the record, and would very much like to see her move to an office beyond the legislature. This year, though? This is not a normal sort of year, and when I think, “what sort of representation is most meaningful to me,” what I want is someone who will take my anger to Washington and speak on my behalf. In my heart, that’s what I want.




8 thoughts on “Elections 2018: US Representative, District 5

  1. I live in MN-5, and you have really summed up my thinking. Omar will fight, and I love the idea of the seat going from Muslim to Muslim. (And very different kinds of Muslims, underlining the insanity of treating the whole religion as an undifferentiated mass.) But she is inexperienced, and Torres Ray has a track record of working hard for actual results. I wonder if there is any chance of passing legislation with the current GOP reps believing that all government is bad, and being generally “eccentric” in their beliefs. But if there is a blue wave, and we have the chance to actually do things…

    I’m thinking hard about this one.

  2. As one of Patricia’s proud constituents, I committed to her instantly. I too admire Ilhan Omar, but I would argue that Patricia’s ten years of state legislative experience is the best possible preparation for Congress. Nonetheless, I deeply appreciate the incredible amount of research and thought that went into this excellent analysis. Thank you, Naomi!

  3. Naomi, I have had some similar struggles in deciding who to support in this race. For me it’s always been between Patricia and Ilhan. I too was represented by Patricia in the state senate until the last redistricting shifted us out of her district. :/ I think she is fantastic, and honestly (though I knew it wasn’t going to happen) I had hoped Dayton would appoint HER to Franken’s seat when he resigned, as it would have been an awesome way to fill the seat with someone who has similar politics and skills to Franken’s, while also elevating the profile of a female Latina immigrant so that everyone could see who she was and how she works, which would *enable* her to run for the office statewide.

    …But I digress…

    My point is, I want to see both of these women continue working and representing…but at this point I, too, am leaning toward Ilhan. For the reasons you allude to, but a few additional points:

    * Despite the fact she is relentlessly progressive and visible (which, as you said, matters to me too), BUT I think she *also* has the ability to build relationships with people and get stuff done behind the scenes. I’ve seen her work a room, find common ground with people and it’s impressive. She also in her (admittedly somewhat short) time in the state house, all of which has been in the minority party, has managed to get a lot done, and work with republicans on issues/places where it *was* possible.

    * I also rather like that she’s doing a community based campaign and not accepting PAC money. It’s a gutsy thing and I wouldn’t necessarily hold her to a no outside money anywhere anytime standard if she were to be elected (there are just … certain realities in Washington), but I like that she knows who she is and where she wants to build her base.

    * From more of an electioneering standpoint…look, with a lot of important statewide races going on this fall, I think Ilhan will do more to turn out the young vote as well as voters of the Somali-American and other communities of color, which I think is important not only for the CD 5 race but governor, attorney general, and other races as well. She lives in a SD that is 55% people in their 20s and younger, and she turned out those populations in good numbers when she ran for state senate–at higher rates than they turned out in previous elections. She presents a chance to help turn out undervoting populations and that … could be very beneficial overall.

    * On a fairly stupidly-practical level…if Patricia loses the primary, she retains her state senate seat and lives to fight another day, possibly pursue another higher office and expand her voce and reach because she isn’t up for re-election this year. If Ilhan loses, we lose her representation. That’s not necessarily a reason to vote for someone entirely, but it may be worth considering as a tie breaker if you’re still on the fence.

  4. I’m 110% with your thinking on this one, Naomi. Leaning Omar, but not leaning hard. Question: do you have any “spidey sense” or hunch that any of Omar’s seemingly minor financial campaign violations – if they even are that – are a red flag warning of problems down the line? In your opinion is it likely a nothingburger, a reason to consider Torres-Ray, or to what degree somewhere in between?

    As always, THANK YOU for your local elections blogging. It is, in a world, invaluable… so maybe think about charging for it! 😉

    • Her inability to file stuff on time is concerning but not a dealbreaker (and not super uncommon, I definitely remember this coming up with other lawmakers). If she actually used campaign funds to pay her divorce lawyer, that would be a bigger deal; the lawyer involved says it was a fee for campaign-related work, and it’s definitely not scandalous to use the same lawyer for your divorce, and for your legislative campaign. (Most normal people, if they’ve had a lawyer for one thing and need legal work for another thing, call the lawyer they already know.) The main thing that strikes me is that Drazkowski clearly has a huuuuuuuuuuuuuge bug up his ass that’s specific to Ilhan.

  5. Just discovered your blog last week while slogging through election research, and I love how you outline all the candidates and compare their platforms and past accomplishments and personalities. I’m a relative newcomer to MN who isn’t as familiar with many of the established names in state politics, so you’ve been a godsend. Thank you for all your research and time spent writing up these posts!

  6. I voted early for Torres Ray. I appreciate your analysis. However, I don’t think Omar has enough experience yet. I am happy she is out there slugging, and I hope she will keep going. She is definitely one to watch.

  7. I just came across your blog tonight, just in time! Thanks so much for all your research and thoughtful consideration of the candidates and the issues. Much appreciated, and I only wish I’d found your blog sooner.

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